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Ask Slashdot: What's the Most Depressing Sci-fi You've Ever Read? 1365

Posted by Soulskill
from the depress-all-humans dept.
50000BTU_barbecue writes "Usually sci-fi provides adventure with happy endings for everyone. But what story have you read that resonates years later because of some insight about human nature or society that's basically cynical or pessimistic? For me it's Fred Pohl's Jem, with its sharply divided resource-constrained future world driven by politics, and its conclusion that humans are just too destructive to handle contacting alien life, especially if humans have the technological upper hand. I'm wondering what other stories have stuck in people's minds. It can be a short story, a novel or an entire series of books."
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Ask Slashdot: What's the Most Depressing Sci-fi You've Ever Read?

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  • Easy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by virb67 (1771270) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @07:56PM (#40911785)
    Childhood's End
    • by Jeremiah Cornelius (137) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:51PM (#40912583) Homepage Journal

      God. What a drag.

      Hey! Ballard's stuff is bleak! I think someone mentioned James Blish, too. That guy's day job was working for the Tobacco Institute. No wonder...

      Then, there is the endless low-level of depression that permeates most Philip K Dick - like a miasma. But he makes you want more, somehow.

      • by drkim (1559875) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @09:13PM (#40912845)

        So right about the Philip K Dick...

        Ubik, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Man in the High Castle, Three Stigmata were just horrifying - but wonderful.

        I think while it's fun to read his stuff, no one would actually want to live in his worlds...

      • by theshowmecanuck (703852) on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @04:18AM (#40915735) Journal

        I didn't find Liebowitz all that depressing. At least we're told that there are colonies in space where man still survives.

        How about On The Beach by Nevil Shute. Written at the height of the cold war, it starts at a point in time where everything in the world is dead or soon to be because of a nuclear war, except Australia, South Africa, and Southern South America. But that is only because the wind patterns haven't brought the fallout there yet. The story takes place in Australia and everyone is just waiting for the seasons to change when the weather patterns will bring the radiation south and kill everyone there too. It follows several people and through them looks at how people live knowing it is just a matter of time till everyone is dead. The author maintains that where they can, people just try to live normal lives because that is all their they can do without going into overload. Some do lose it becoming alcoholics and extreme risk takers, etc. Some are in complete denial. Some like an American sub commander, internally can't accept his family is dead and buys things for them for when he goes home. Rationally he knows they have to be dead, but can't help but deny it inside.

        The commander is in charge of a nuclear submarine that was docked in Australia at the time all the hostilities literally went ballistic. They go to Puget Sound because they hear intermitant transmissions from a short wave transmitter using morse code. While up there they determine radiatin levels aren't dropping. After someone goes ashore in air tanks they find the transmission was a broken window and a curtain brushing the sending unit. Power is on because the automatic systems haven't crashed yet.

        They go back to Melbourne and the government there starts handing out suicide pills so people don't have to endure radiation poisoning before finally dying. The book ends with all the characters including a young family with a baby born just before the war, killing themselves as the radiation in the area reaches leathal levels.

        I read the book once. It was incredibly well written. One of the best I ever read. I can't read it again. It is way too depressing. WAY too depressing. I tried once and before I even read a page I had a sort of reaction to it. I had to put it down. There was no way I could read it again. I've read Liebowitz a few times and will probably read it again some time. Not anywhere near the coefficient of depresivity that On The Beach puts out. FWIW I read it in the 70s as a teen, when you could still see B-52s routinely flying north from SAC bases in the U.S. on training runs and patrols. Back when 747s were still fairly rare you could still tell the B-52s apart by how damned high they were flying and the contrails. You could tell they had a massive number of engines by the contrails. Different time.

    • Brave New World (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Darth Muffin (781947) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:52PM (#40912599) Homepage
      Brave New World, Aldus Huxley. Perfectly horrible. Stranger in a Strange land was also pretty depressing.
      • Re:Brave New World (Score:5, Insightful)

        by catchblue22 (1004569) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @10:31PM (#40913679) Homepage

        Yes, Brave New World. Especially since Brave New World seems to reflect our current cultural situation in much of the west.

        I have heard Huxley's Brave New World compared and contrasted with Orwell's 1984. In 1984, the powers that be manipulate the public's opinions to believe that, in essence black is white and 2 + 2 = 5. In Huxley's Brave New World, the public simply doesn't care about the reality of the world. Most people are simply interested in what is in front of them, their desires, their fears, without any real concern about society as a whole. That sounds a lot like the current corporate state.

        • Re:Brave New World (Score:5, Informative)

          by catchblue22 (1004569) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @10:45PM (#40913821) Homepage

          If I may contribute an addendum, here is the quote to which I was referring, by Neil Postman in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death (pdf) [seu.edu.cn]. It compares Orwell's 1984 to Huxley's Brave New World:

          What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that our desire will ruin us.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @07:56PM (#40911787)

    1984

    • or Brazil (Score:5, Insightful)

      by twoallbeefpatties (615632) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:36PM (#40912359)
      You know, I read 1984 when I was in junior high (which was in the early 90s), and it was a dark and frightening read. But it didn't really hit me that hard. Then as an adult a few years ago, I watched Terry Gilliam's Brazil for the first time, and it depressed the hell out of me.

      1984 is a story about an ultra-competent government that manages to run everything just the way it wants to and convince people to act and think how it wants. Brazil was a story about an amazingly incompetent government that so much fails at it's job as to take society down with it. Guess which one I find more relevant to the current state of affairs?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by marcosdumay (620877)

        Brazil was a story about an amazingly incompetent government that so much fails at it's job as to take society down with it.

        Doesn't matter what is more depressing. The question was about fiction, your book is out of scope. The judge is still out about 1984, but Brazil clearly can't participate on this contest.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @07:58PM (#40911809)

    Though the most depressing part is the people who think she had good ideas.

  • by Telvin_3d (855514) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:01PM (#40911829)

    I've found the literary branch of steampunk to be generally depressing, with very few bright spots. It's interesting because most expressions of the culture are very Jules Verne / Edgar Rice Burroughs pulp influenced, particularly on the costuming side where steampunk really started. But the literary side is almost entirely Dickens with zeppelins.

    • by cpu6502 (1960974)

      How about "modern SF" in general? I spent some time reading the Hugo nominees and most of the stories were depressing. I couldn't decide if I should vote, or just say "Why bother? It's all pointless anyway" like Marvin the Depressed Robot.

      One older SF writer (sorry forget who) actually wrote an essay encouraging authors to write something CHEERY for a change with a positive outcome. The magazine which published the esaay is runing a contest around that theme.

  • inane subject here (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:01PM (#40911833)

    I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. Absolutely nothing good happens to anyone ever.

  • Flowers for Algernon (Score:5, Interesting)

    by danimalx (2702969) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:01PM (#40911845)
    I win.
  • Bradbury (Score:5, Interesting)

    by frisket (149522) <peter@@@silmaril...ie> on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:02PM (#40911851) Homepage
    All Summer In A Day [wikipedia.org] (Ray Bradbury).
  • Jem? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Millennium (2451) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:02PM (#40911853) Homepage

    I don't know if I'd call it depressing. I found it outrageous, myself. Truly outrageous.

  • by Niris (1443675) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:02PM (#40911857)
    The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Stranger in a Strange Land are pretty neck and neck for sad endings. Also the Martian Chronicles by Bradbury.
    • Re:Heinlein! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Elgonn (921934) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:09PM (#40911955)
      I'm not sure I'd consider The Moon is a Harsh Mistress as depressing. I'm still sad for Mike but I'm not sure how you'd find the story depressing.
  • by Roarkk (303058) * on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:02PM (#40911859) Homepage Journal
    What do you get when youo combine manic depression, schizophrenia, bigotry, and leprosy, then add in a little literal and figurative rape?

    In the end, a pretty good series, but more than anything else I"ve read the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant has the darkest, most depressing prose I've ever read.
    • Wouldn't call Thomas manic depressed, nor schizophrenic, nor a bigot. Depressed, sure. Probably clinical depressed. Not a big surprise if one is diagnosed with Hansen's_disease, wife leave, taking only son. To me, this is the only fantasy I've read that's [b]realistic[/b] regarding the transfer to a fantasy world. Would you believe it if you "woke up" in a magic land where loam cures your leprosy and impotence? Or would you consider it just a dream?
    • by DamienMcKenna (181101) <damien.mc-kenna@com> on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @09:23PM (#40912967)

      Donaldson's "Gap" series was pretty depressing too - lots of anti-heros, a leading lady who spends half of the series being raped, etc. Yes, the series did get to a point in the end, but it's like wading through ten miles of sewers just to find an exit.

  • Where to start? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cpu6502 (1960974) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:03PM (#40911869)

    There's the famous Star Trek story "City on the Edge of Forever". The original script by Harlan Ellison is even darker, with people in the engineering section of the ship dealing drugs (which is how the doctor ends-up going nutty -- a bad trip).

    I just read a story last year in one of Gardner Dozois' Best of the Year anthologies. It involved humans boarding a generation ship that would travel to a new galaxy (50,000 years). The first 1000 years were not too bad but over time the humans became dumber-and-dumber, as they had no more challenging task then to scrub the floors/walls/ceiling and keep the ship clean. After 25,000 years they were walking on all fours & no longer bothering to wear clothes (or speak).

    At that point the generation ship was intercepted by a faster-than-light ship that "rescued" the simian-like human beings. I imagine they ended-up in a zoo. (If you have a chance I would recommend buying all of Dozois' annual anthologies. If you like Outer Limits' method of telling a different story each week, you'll like these books.)

  • by Covalent (1001277) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:03PM (#40911871)
    1984 Second? Fahrenheit 451. Same reasoning.
    • by Elgonn (921934)
      Can we even nominate those two? At this point they're practically Sci-Non-Fi.
    • by Spritzer (950539) *
      That's exactly the response I had planned. I remember the first time I read 1984, pulling for Winston and hoping for a story where the people succeed in overthrowing or subverting the regime. Oh, the let down, followed by the realization that this is a story about our world, our society.

      I'm going to go curl up in a ball now.
  • by The Archon V2.0 (782634) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:03PM (#40911877)
    Harry Harrison's Make Room! Make Room!. Of course, when I was a kid people were predicting that the Baby Boom was going to result in some mad exponential growth thing and there'd be billions of people in North America by 2000ish, so I thought I was looking at my future.
  • Here's a couple. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Robotech_Master (14247) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:04PM (#40911879) Homepage Journal

    Destination: Void by Frank Herbert. (Or as I like to call it: "Destination: Avoid".)

    Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke.

  • On the Beach (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bvdp (1517349) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:04PM (#40911883)
    Nevil Shute: On the Beach ... ordinary people doing ordinary things before they all die.
    • by sir-gold (949031)

      This definitely has my vote.

      You can't get much more depressing than a book about people who are basically waiting to die of radiation poisoning, with no hope whatsoever

  • Depends (Score:5, Funny)

    by Osgeld (1900440) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:05PM (#40911887)

    "Usually sci-fi provides adventure with happy endings for everyone."

    Depends on which side your on.

  • Ender's Game (Score:5, Interesting)

    by malraid (592373) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:05PM (#40911889)
    The ending is just brutal, I just get the feeling of everyone hating themselves after pushing a boy to commit xenocide, even though they won the war.
  • The Road (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:05PM (#40911901)

    The Road

  • by dns_server (696283) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:08PM (#40911935)

    I like when sysadmins roamed the earth.
    Basically a computer virus infects the internet.
    The sysadmins go to the data centers to fix it.
    There are terrorist attacks and a real virus is released that kills just about everyone except the sysadmins as data centers filter the air.

    You can read the contents on the link below.
    There is a comic book adaptation as well as a radio play as the story is cc licensed.
    http://craphound.com/overclocked/Cory_Doctorow_-_Overclocked_-_When_Sysadmins_Ruled_the_Earth.html [craphound.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:10PM (#40911973)

    Yes, him. The magnificent awesome Martin. The guy who writes books where everyone you care about dies, nothing good every happens to anyone, no good deed goes unpunished (the few good deeds that happen), its everyone for themselves or their families - most times, and most importantly, its not even winter yet but its coming! Want a downer? Read A Song of Fire and Ice.

  • Nineteen Eighty-Four (Score:5, Interesting)

    by avatar139 (918375) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:10PM (#40911983)
    When I was young, I found it depressing because of the ending. Now that I'm older I find it depressing because I've seen it begin to grow in the world around me...:P
  • by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:11PM (#40911997)

    I never got very far into the book, because the main character (I hesitate to say protagonist) had such a dark soul. So maybe it has a happier ending, but I couldn't get to it.

  • by Yunzil (181064) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:12PM (#40912017) Homepage

    Synopsis: Humans are self-destructive, never learn from their mistakes, and are doomed to destroy themselves over and over again.

  • by Niris (1443675) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:13PM (#40912029)
    Very interesting story, but an ending that I still think about.
  • by overshoot (39700) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:15PM (#40912055)
    It's right up there in the "damn this world sucks" department, although not quite as depressing as the first time I read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy straight through. That may have been sleep deprivation, though, but the effect was that in the beginning everything was a stroll through the Shire even when the Ringwraiths were after the hobbits and by the end it was gloom and doom and depression even when Aragorn was being crowned. Impressive effect.
  • by Mystiq (101361) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:16PM (#40912097)
    Mass Effect 3. I was depressed for about a week after playing the original ending. (Hey, you never said it had to be good, just depressing.)
  • Harrison (Score:5, Insightful)

    by crow_t_robot (528562) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:17PM (#40912105)
    Bergeron
  • by Bobtree (105901) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:21PM (#40912155)

    Blindsight, besides being the best thing I've ever read, has a rather stark outlook on the nature of consciousness and what that means for us as human beings. I don't consider it depressing, though some might, and Watts calls his portrayal of human nature "almost childishly optimistic."

    From Watts' homepage: "Whenever I find my will to live becoming too strong, I read Peter Watts." —James Nicoll

  • by sonofepson (239138) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:22PM (#40912171)

    Consider Phlebas, Use of Weapons and Matter. Good though.

  • by gatkinso (15975) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:23PM (#40912185)

    Then that wins. McCarthy rules.

    Also "I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream" is depressing.

    "The Forge of God" by Greg Bear.

    "O Happy Day" Geoff Ryman

    "Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand" Chip Delany

  • Firefly (Score:5, Interesting)

    by exabrial (818005) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:26PM (#40912223)
    After I heard they cancelled the series.
  • by arpad1 (458649) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:30PM (#40912281)

    "Stand on Zanzibar" by John Brunner was pretty relentlessly depressing and not just in a worldwide sort of way.

    No one in the story was happy or had any reason to be happy or had any hope of being happy. Ever. Till the end of time. Even an end to war turned out to be depressing.

    Made "The Road" seem like a carefree romp across the countryside.

  • by wonderboss (952111) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:36PM (#40912361)

    Nightmarish.

  • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:43PM (#40912459)
    Some people have already mentioned Childhood's End, which I found almost unbearable to read near the end. I hit a similar level of depression whenever I read Mythago Wood, Lavondyss, the works. Brilliantly conceived, but for some reason these books make me imagine putting my head into a noose and kicking the chair as a more positive and appealing alternative to reading the books and imagining the storyline.
  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:45PM (#40912497) Homepage Journal

    1. On the Beach all life killed by a nuclear war with the last people on earth just waiting for the radiation cloud to come and kill them or commiting suicide. No escape just a dead earth.
    2. 1984. No hope you can not win, nobody can win, there is no hope. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nineteen_Eighty-Four#Cultural_impact [wikipedia.org]
    3. The The Forge of God. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Forge_of_God [wikipedia.org] Only a few humans are saved, the earth is turned to rubble.

  • by fm6 (162816) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:48PM (#40912539) Homepage Journal

    Of the titles mentioned here (that I've read), none depressed me that much. For example, Jem. Yeah, the people in it are stupid and destructive, but so what? That's what real life is like. You muddle through, you seize what happiness you can, you do what you can to make things, better.If that's not enough for you, you're in the wrong universe.

    The SF books that depress me are from authors like Harlan Ellison who wallow in their own darkness and babble profound nonsense. And there I think it's the author that depresses me, not the story.

    Somebody claimed that 1984 depressed them because they saw it happening all around them. Really? Nobody's summoned me to viewscreen for mandatory calisthenics lately, and I haven't heard from the Junior Antisex League all week. Yeah, a lot of our political wingnuts (on both the right and and left) sound like they belong to INGSOC, but that's always been true. And contrary to what Orwell feared, they're further from running the show than they've ever been.

    I think a lot of this stuff depressed the hell out of me when I was a teenager because TV had trained me to believe that all stories had endings that if not happy, were at least morally satisfying. But as grownups, we need to get over ourselves. Especially Stephen Baxter, you really needs to go cold turkey on the end-of-the-world novels.

  • Earth Abides (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dcollins (135727) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:49PM (#40912547) Homepage

    Low-key, and yet just deeply terrified me. Seemed pretty concrete and realistic. It's all downhill. Every hope is dashed.

  • by cowtamer (311087) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:52PM (#40912595) Journal

    Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley followed by a short story I read which I can't locate right now.

    I believe it was called 2439 -- the premise being that in the year 2439 (I might be wrong about the year), the Earth is covered in its entirety with a 700 story building in order to provide for the almost 1 trillion humans that live in it (with only algae left to supply them). The story was about the last man to actually have animals, and the authorities plight to convince him to euthanize them in order to make room for the trillionth human, so that 'perfection' can be achieved. The claim of the authorities was that there was enough color microfiche of all the animals that ever lived so that the actual ones need no longer be around to consume resources.

    My paraphrase may seem very silly, but the actual story had enough of an impact on me when I was 15 to change my outlook on our relationship with the environment for good. It'd be great if anyone could point me to the actual story/author.

  • by cpm99352 (939350) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @08:56PM (#40912653)
    Great topic, btw!

    My books are packed up from a move, so this is from memory.

    On The Beach
    The Road (does that count as SF?)
    While many will list 1984, I found his other work actually more depressing: Keep the Apidistra Flying and Coming Up For Air
    Make Room, Make Room (kind of uncharacteristic for Harry Harrison)
    Handmaid's Tale
    Parable of the Sower & Parable of the Talents (I wish Octavia Butler had a) survived to write the third book b) was far more better known)

    Ted Sturgeon has written many elegant depressing (some in fact heartbreaking) stories, including Saucer of Loneliness. There's an excellent series of his works (example here: http://www.amazon.com/Slow-Sculpture-Complete-Theodore-Sturgeon/dp/1556438346/ [amazon.com]) well worth reading.

    I'm not sure depressing is the word, but Harlan Ellison has written amazing stuff. IMO _Being John Malkovitch_ was a ripoff of one of his stories.

    Finally, my google skills suck, but there's a relatively well known SF/mystery story written in the past 10 years where the premise is that Islam is now the dominant force in America. I found that pretty depressing. Anyone know what I'm remembering?
  • by safetyinnumbers (1770570) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @09:00PM (#40912703)
    A lot of the best answers have already been given, so to be different I'll add Cory Doctorow's "Little Brother". Technically it's a more upbeat book than 1984, but it's more relevant to today's society, giving it more impact.

    It seemed to keep hinting towards clever and cute plot twists and resolutions (which you'd expect since it's pitched as a Young Adults book) but things kept resolving more realistically.

    Oh and a some of Bob Shaw's work (particularly short stories) were pretty dark in tone.
  • by blind biker (1066130) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @09:01PM (#40912727) Journal

    All three Manifold books are depressing, but top-notch hard Sci-Fi. If you are into hard Sci-Fi you definitely should check out Baxter.

    The three Manifold books are depressing in different ways. I don't want to spoil them, but I'll just say that they are depressing in a "Childhood's end"-kind of way; that is, you can also be exalted in a Zen-like realization.

    All three books super-highly recommended. My favorite is "Manifold: Space".

  • by wrf3 (314267) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @09:04PM (#40912749) Homepage

    by Barry B. Longyear

  • by steveha (103154) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @09:05PM (#40912765) Homepage

    "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" [wikipedia.org] is pretty darn bleak: a crazed and omnipotent computer has killed off all of humanity except for six people; by the end of the story there is only one left alive, and he has been turned into an amorphous blob that will live forever in torment (with no mouth and yet needing to scream).

    Speaker for the Dead [google.com] is also pretty depressing. After reading it, I was done with Orson Scott Card and I still haven't gone back. Some humans get killed on a newly settled planet, and Ender goes to investigate. Since there is no faster than light travel for matter (only for information), by the time he gets there years have gone by and pretty much everyone's life was ruined by the tragedy. Then Ender's investigation rips open the old wounds. Then he figures out what went wrong and it was all a horrible tragic misunderstanding. I was upset about all this, because Ender was fabulously wealthy and had unlimited access to the "ansibles" (FTL communicators) so at the beginning I thought he was going to play Nero Wolfe, hire someone on the planet to be his investigator, and solve the mystery immediately after it happened and before everyone's lives were ruined. Nope.

    Dancers in the Afterglow [google.com] had such a downer of an ending that it left me thinking "WTF?!?" for days. A plucky female gets captured by bad guys, who torture her, cut off her arms and legs, and put fast-reproducing bacteria in the wounds so they can never be healed properly. At the end of the story she has been rescued, has been given care, seems to be coping and is almost happy again... and then a meteor falls from the sky and kills her instantly. WTF?!? (I don't think Jack L. Chalker hated women... he never wrote anything else like that; and e.g. Mavra Chang found a pretty happy ending in the Well Worlds series.)

    There was a short story, "Quietus" [blogspot.com], where there was some sort of apocalypse and there is only one young man left alive. Against all the odds, there is also one young woman left alive, and he meets her. Through a tragic misunderstanding, an alien who came to help kills the man, and the woman is left grieving over the dead body. The alien then has to live with the knowledge that he had rendered an intelligent species extinct.

    steveha

  • by Leomania (137289) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @09:09PM (#40912805) Homepage

    The future world she envisioned felt so much like an obvious extrapolation from the world of today. It affected me for awhile afterwards; just kept thinking about it...

  • by machine321 (458769) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @09:12PM (#40912837)

    Truly outrageous.

  • by buddyglass (925859) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @09:13PM (#40912851)
    Some of these may not be considered Sci Fi, but here you go:
    1. Flowers for Algernon
    2. On the Beach
    3. The Mist
    4. Elric Saga (mostly the ending)
    5. The Road (haven't read it, but I hear it's supremely depressing)
    6. Never Let Me Go (Ishiguro) (haven't read it, but even the synopsis is enough to depress you)
    7. All Summer in a Day (Bradbury)
  • I must have been around 12-14 when I read it, but left a pretty deep impression. And I thought the idea of a gravity lens was neat. One of my most favorite authors.

    http://www.amazon.com/Space-Tyrant-Vol-Refugee-ebook/dp/B004P8K530/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1344388563&sr=8-2&keywords=bio+of+a+space+tyrant [amazon.com]

    Hmmm. On a similar note, some movies/anime that come to mind are Akira, Aliens, Bladerunner, Naussica Valley of the Wind, etc. Also, Grave of the Fireflies is just the plan saddest and most moving anime/film period.

  • The Road (Score:5, Interesting)

    by echusarcana (832151) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @09:21PM (#40912941)
    The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Should win this contest by a mile.
  • by metrometro (1092237) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @09:41PM (#40913145)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Forever_War [wikipedia.org]

    The middle section, in which the soldier returns home to find the planet he gave up his soul for is now a wretched cesspit of crime and misery that can't even remember his war, was omitted from the original publishing, because "Shit, man, we can't print that."

    It's depressing because it's a just a retelling of the author's experience fighting the Vietnam War.

  • Probably (Score:4, Informative)

    by nelsonal (549144) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @09:49PM (#40913245) Journal
    The windup girl. Resource constrained Thailand, miserable existence for what's essentially a genetically engineered sex toy.
  • by Flere Imsaho (786612) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @10:06PM (#40913441)

    The story follows a manned mission to Titan. Apart from the very long term outcome, it's a thoroughly depressing read - Hacked from Wikipedia:

    En-route, one crew member dies after a solar storm. The use of a CELSS greenhouse for life support provides a continuous food supply, and the astronauts rely on vegetables, grain and fruit from the greenhouse as they travel on. But things take a dark turn as funding and support for resupply and Earth-return retrieval are cut by Maclachlan's administration (proposed and carried out by the very same men that tried to shoot the shuttle down), leaving the team with no hope for survival beyond what they may find on Titan. Once they reach Saturn and prepare to land on Titan's surface, another crew member is lost during the landing procedure with another effectively crippled. Titan is discovered to be a bleak, freezing dwarf-planet containing liquid ethane oceans, a sticky mud surface, and a climate which includes a thick atmosphere of purple organic compounds falling like snow from the clouds; and the only traces of life they find are fossilized remains of microbic bacteria similar to those recovered from Martian meteorites. The remaining astronauts relay their findings back to a largely uninterested Earth.

    Meanwhile, the Chinese, in order to retaliate for biological attacks by the US, cause a huge explosion next to an asteroid (2002OA), with the aim of deflecting it into Earth orbit and threatening the world with targeted precision strikes in the future. Unfortunately, their calculations are wrong as they didn't take into account the size of the asteroid which could cause a Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event. The asteroid strikes Earth, critically damaging the planetary ecosystem. The Titan team members are presumably the last humans left alive.

    As the surviving astronauts slowly die of disease and in-fighting, they decide to try to ensure life will continue to survive: they take a flask of bacteria and drop it into a crater filled with liquid water, in the hope that some form of life will develop.

    The novel's final sequence depicts the final two crew members reincarnated on Titan several billion years in the future. The sun has entered its red giant phase, warming the Saturnian system and aiding the evolution of life, in the form of strange, intelligent beetle-like creatures, on Titan. The astronauts watch as the creatures build a fleet of starships to seed and colonize new solar systems before the expanding sun boils off the surface of the moon.

  • by Dr_Banzai (111657) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @10:34PM (#40913705) Homepage
    Forge of God by Greg Bear could be considered depressing as it involves the destruction of Earth by inscrutable aliens. Its sequel Anvil of Stars is also rather dark in mood, involving an army of children on a long-term mission to find and take revenge on the Earth's unknown destructors.

    Also very dark in tone is the thought-provoking short story Hardfought, also by Greg Bear, well worth a read.

  • by Pantero Blanco (792776) on Tuesday August 07, 2012 @11:37PM (#40914257)

    The short story "Dogfight" from the Burning Chrome collection has a young street criminal discover that he has a talent that could bring him a legitimate source of income and friends.

    Since it's my answer to the title question, you can guess that it doesn't end well. The whole story's online here [voidspace.org.uk] and a couple of other places.

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